Full circle

Henry in TImes Square, 1995Times Square, New York City, early on a Sunday morning, summer 1996.  The day before, we’d taken our son Henry, age six, to see his first musical, Beauty & the Beast, on Broadway.  A friend working on the show had reserved our seats, front and center, and had arranged a backstage tour after the final curtain.  Henry had been allowed to walk around on the set.  He’d touched the teacups and candlesticks and glimpsed the piano gleaming in the orchestra pit.  He’d shaken hands with the Beast himself, who had been kind and friendly to this scrawny little kid who knew every song in the show by heart.  And now, the next morning, all Henry wanted was to go back and do it all over again.

My husband snapped the photo because it was so not like our shy, mild-mannered son to be demanding.  And it was so not like me to ever speak sternly to him.  And yet, there we were, facing off in the first (and pretty much the only) argument we’ve ever had. [continue…]

Ready for Air–and a give-away

RFA-Cover-194x300It wasn’t lost on me that I read Kate Hopper’s lovely memoir, Ready for Air, earlier this month, while in the air myself.

Beside me, squeezed into the too-small middle seat, my 6’1″ son Jack was reading his own book.  I kept glancing over at him, aware that this was the last trip the two of us would take together for quite a while.  Aware, too, that I was already preparing myself for the moment when I would bid him goodbye in Atlanta, leave him to his new life as a student there, and fly home without him.

Kate’s subtitle is “A Journey through Premature Motherhood.”  It sounds specific, and it is.  This is a story about a baby girl born too soon, about a young woman’s struggle to be strong and brave in the face of one terrifying complication after another, of a marriage that is tested and ultimately strengthened by adversity, of a baby whose struggle to survive offers both a compelling read and something better: a reminder that, in the largest sense, our human stories are all variations on a theme.  For isn’t the real journey — through motherhood, through every relationship we ever have, through life itself  — really about learning to work with things as they are rather than as we wish they could be? [continue…]

This is 55

H & KI’ve been fifty-five for a little over a week now. Rounding this corner, finding myself squarely in the long-shadowed afternoon of my own life, has given me pause.

I’ve spent a lot of time lately gazing out the window in my kitchen, watching the sunlit leaves float from tree to ground.  The days, the hours, even the moments, feel ripe and full — time to be cherished rather than rushed through.

And so, on this autumn afternoon I shut my laptop.  For the first time in years, I pick up a pad of paper and a pen instead.  I grab a sweater and head outside to write.  Perhaps what I’m yearning for is a different kind of knowing – words that come from the still, silent place in my soul, a glimpse of my own depths, some intimation of my rightful place in the world now that I’ve crested the arc of life and begun my descent down the other side.

55.  How strange it feels to write that pair of fives, to associate them with me. Have I really been alive that long, half a century plus five?  And what exactly am I, now that I’m no longer technically middle-aged but not exactly old yet, either?

I turn to a fresh page, brush a stray leaf from my hair.  [continue…]

September afternoon

nestA Saturday afternoon in September, the last of them.  Where the air leaves off and my skin begins, I can’t tell. They are the same temperature, the same softness, the same.  There is no need for a sweater or shoes. I sit in the lawn chair by the garden, eyes half closed, listening to the low, incessant churring of crickets, the intermittent hammer taps of a woodpecker in the maple tree overhead, the chatter of birds, their wing beats as they come and go from the feeder, the acoustic hum of bees burrowing into the jeweled nasturtiums.

It is that gentle, golden, in-between moment, no longer summer but not fully fall, either.  The sun, already sliding down the sky, casts long purple shadows across the grass and, elsewhere, creates translucent pools of light. It feels nearly holy, this luminous glimmer shafting through the trees. Everything is softening, crumpling, fading.  And yet, on this mild, sun-kissed afternoon it isn’t an ending I feel, but a thrumming continuum of energy, an urgent, insistent turning toward life and change. [continue…]

Time in a bottle

photospent most of yesterday morning in the kitchen with my son Jack, windows open to the September air.  In ten days he will move to Atlanta to begin his new life there as a student.  But for now, the two of us find ourselves home alone together.  (Henry left last week to return to his alma mater, St. Olaf, where he’s helping out with the fall musical; Steve has been away for a few days on business. And so, it’s just two of us here, a rare mother-son combination that hasn’t happened for years and may not recur any time soon.)

All summer, I have mourned the end of summer.  Back in June, my family laughed at me for regretting the passing of time before the time I’d been anticipating had even arrived.  (Yes, I know, it’s crazy.) The days were still getting longer, they pointed out, and already I was imagining how I would feel when they began to grow shorter.  The lake water was perfect for swimming, and I was wondering how many more swims we would have. A piercing awareness of the preciousness, the transience, of everything is, I suppose, both the blessing and the burden of my temperament. It is also the price my family has to pay for living with me.  I am always reminding them (myself!) to notice, to appreciate, to be aware of all that is and of all we have.

The truth is, I write so much about inhabiting the moment largely to help myself remember that it’s where I want to be: simply present.  My tendency, always, is to live with a lump in my throat.  I experience the pain of endings even as I cherish the tenderness of beginnings.  I allow every joy to be shot through with a thread of sadness.  And I see in all that lives, all that has passed;  in all that is, all that one day will no longer be.

And so  I sit in my garden amidst the wildly blooming nasturtiums and feel the fleetingness of their splendor.  I adore our thirteen-year-old dog all the more for knowing her days are numbered.  (When she placed her head on the bed this morning at 6 am and pleaded for a walk, I swung right into action – because, of course, I can so easily imagine the future, when there will be no need to be out taking a hike at dawn.)  I fill our basement freezer with strawberries and blueberries and raspberries picked at the height of the season because I am always conscious of the season’s inexorable turning.

Hanging out with my soon to be 21-year-old son yesterday, I reminded myself to simply enjoy the moment, without layering on the fact that in a few weeks he’ll be in his own new kitchen a few thousand miles away and we’ll be texting instead of talking. [continue…]